Water, Roads are Top Priorities for Local Governments

“Drink, drive, pee,” pretty much sums up current sentiments on infrastructure needs, but a new survey shows funding is a roadblock.

The economy is impacted, too.

“When roads or bridges fail, we are affected more than just as users of those structures. We impair commerce. Goods and services can’t get from Point A to Point B effectively or efficiently,” said Mick Gronewold, a professional engineer and an owner of Fehr Graham, an environmental and engineering firm.

When it comes to their transportation infrastructure, local governments are in a squeeze: As most commuters know from personal experience, there is no shortage of road fixes to be done.

But with the price tag for a bridge or highway interchange at a hefty $20M or so, and costs for smaller projects spiraling out of control, it’s finding a way to pay for those improvements that’s the real roadblock as costs pile up.

To wit, the American Society of Civil Engineers 2017 infrastructure report card says that traffic delays and congestion in wasted time and fuel is costing the U.S. $160 billion annually. The average age of the nation’s 641,387 bridges is 43 years. Spotted with rust with concrete crumbling in some cases, these bridges will not last forever.

No surprise, then, that transportation projects top the list of infrastructure priorities for three-fourths of local government officials. That’s according to a recent survey by American City & County, which polled administrators across multiple departments on their infrastructure needs.

 

More than half (55.6%) rated the condition of their roads as “fair” or “poor.” Respondents chimed in on the terrible condition of their highways, roads, and bridges, bemoaning the constant drain on resources and concern over critical projects stalled due to lack of funding. And while they are signing off on these delays, in their gut they know that without adequate roads, bridges and tunnels the basic needs of their citizens cannot be met.

The economy is impacted, too.

“When roads or bridges fail, we are affected more than just as users of those structures. We impair commerce. Goods and services can’t get from Point A to Point B effectively or efficiently,” said Mick Gronewold, a professional engineer and an owner of Fehr Graham, an environmental and engineering firm.

Survey results showed that clean and safe drinking water is considered to be another basic infrastructure need, as is the treatment of waste that we flush. Given the Flint water crisis of 2014-2017 is still top of mind, that’s no surprise.

Over one-third (42.6%) of survey respondents rated their water and wastewater infrastructure as “fair” or “poor,” citing aging water and sewer lines as a key concern. Some believe that water is a resource that is becoming scarce while one respondent characterized safe drinking water as the “New gold.”

 

But How to Pay for It All?

Nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that getting funding to pay for infrastructure improvement projects is their biggest challenge. When asked who should pay, respondents said that the federal government should pony up close to half the tab; local governments 39%; and the private sector should pick up the remaining 13%.

These survey results mirror the views of Madison, Wis., Mayor Paul Soglin. In an interview with Government Product News, he asserted that there is only so much that U.S. cities can do to foster a strong and vibrant economy and maintain the nation’s infrastructure.

“We are very reliant on property taxes paid by families, seniors and small businesses. These are pocketbook issues for our residents – they want basic services – plowing the streets, maintaining our parks and protecting our families, kids, visitors and commerce. We need other partners to help foster economic growth and preserve our infrastructure.”

Needless to say, local government cannot fly solo. They will need partners—the federal government, private partners, and their citizens—to provide meaningful funding for public infrastructure improvements.

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